Tasmania and in particular Launceston, has been a pioneer in the development of regular commercial airline operations since commercial aviation began in Australia.
The first aerial crossing of Bass Strait, was made by the late Lieutenant Arthur Long, in an unpredictable Boulted Paul single engine biplane on 17 December 1919. Long took off from a Launceston paddock into a stiff north-west wind and did not see land again for 3 and a half hours. He made an emergency landing at the Victorian seaside township of Torquay and eventually reached Melbourne 6 and a half hours after leaving Tasmania.
Six years later, in September 1927, the Australian Aero Club (Tasmania Section) was organised.In July 1929 the Home Territories Department acquired a site at Western Junction called the Valley of Springs, an old local name for the area, for the development of an aerodrome at an estimated cost of 20,400 pounds ($41,000). On 23 November 1930, the Commonwealth Inspector of Aerodromes, Mr H J McKinnel, inspected the work, which was under way at Western Junction, and announced his satisfaction that the aerodrome being developed was progressing well.
On 23 November 1930, a historic event took place at the new Western Junction Aerodrome. The Aero Club placed its first aircraft, a gypsy moth VH-ULM in the air. This aircraft was one of two leased by the Aero Club from the Government to enable flying training to begin. The lease of the two aircraft was for a peppercorn rent per annum on demand.
On the 18 December 1930, the amphibian aircraft Cutty Sark made the Bass Strait crossing with 3 passengers, and on 16 January 1931, the first airliner arrived at Western Junction. It was the Tri Motor Southern Cloud with 10 passengers on board. It made the crossing at 100 mph, taking almost 3 hours for the trip. A Boeing 737 now makes the same crossing in 45 to 50 minutes.
On the 28 February 1931, 20,000 people crowded the Evandale Road to see Western Junction officially opened as a government aerodrome. The aerodrome was officially opened by Colonel Brinsmead, the then controller of Civil Aviation, who at the ceremony said "I can envisage the time when aeroplanes will leave twice or three times a day from mainland capitals for Launceston".
In 1932 William Holyman´s grandson Victor, purchased a fox moth aircraft capable of carrying three passengers. The aircraft was used for flights from Launceston to Flinders Island. A similar service was being offered by another Launceston man. Mr L McKenzie Johnston, who had begun the first service to Flinders Island in March 1932 with a Desoutter high wing monoplane "Miss Flinders".
The Desoutter VH-UEE was found in a hangar in Bourke NSW, brought to Launceston, restored by public subscription and in 1966 was placed in the Terminal building at Launceston Airport, later to be moved for viewing at the Inveresk Museum in Launceston. This was accomplished by the persistent efforts of a former Airport Director, Mr George Inglis.
The Desoutter "Miss Flinders" is the only one of its type in Australia.
The first airmail to Flinders Island was on the 17 March 1932. In 1983, the 50th Anniversary of the first airmail was re-enacted using a vintage Auster aircraft, flown by Mr Johnston´s son, a pilot with Ansett. The Holyman family entered into partnership with Mr Johnston and by 1933 the company Tasmanian Aerial Services - was also serving Smithton and King Island. In 1934 the company became Holyman Air Services later Australian National Airways then Ansett.
On display at the Airport is a nameplate from the Bungana, the first DC2 aircraft to be placed into service in 1936, from Mrs VC Holyman in memory of her late husband, Captain Victor Holyman, who lost his life in an aircraft accident off Flinders Island. In the early years of Launceston Airport, the bell was used by Holyman Airways and later by A.N.A. to call passengers on board departing aircraft.
When world war 2 broke out, the RAAF took over Western Junction as an Elementary Flying training School. Civil flying did not resume until 1946.
By the early 1960s it became apparent that the facilities at Launceston were inadequate to cope with the demands of the time. In 1962 the Federal government approved in principle a plan for major redevelopment of the airport. The following year the Department received approval for the strengthening of all pavements and the extension of the runway. Subsequently there was a go ahead for the new terminal and other facilities. In October 1982 the Department upgraded the runway to unlimited Boeing 727 standard at a cost of $1 million.
The emblem of the City of Launceston is the Rhododendron and in keeping with this theme the area around the terminal was developed as a rhododendron garden. About 20,000 indigenous flora have been planted to maintain the Australian character of the site and to act as windbreaks for the rhododendrons.A special rhododendron "Faith Henty" was named after Lady Henty. The late Sir Denham Henty opened the remodelled Airport in 1966.
The airport was corporatised in 1988 under The Federal Airports Corporation.In 1998, the privatisation of the airports in Australia, saw Launceston Airport lease purchased by an Australian company - Australia Pacific Airports (Launceston) Pty. Ltd.